Celebrate New Year’s Eve in New Orleans

Celebrate New Year's Eve in New Orleans

Winter can be a fantastic time of year to visit New Orleans, especially in the run-up to New Year’s Eve. Restaurants get a little cozier, indoor music venues get a little bit livelier, and if you come at the right time, you may catch some Carnival celebrations. The Carnival season officially begins Jan. 6, but it kicks off in earnest about two weeks before Mardi Gras. Whether you’re traveling with friends, as a couple or as a family, the Big Easy offers a lot of ways to celebrate the new year.

Traveling as a Family

Head straight to City Park, which is larger than New York’s Central Park and packed with kid-friendly spots like Storyland, the classical Greek-inspired Peristyle pavilion and large playground. After the kids have run, swung and hopped, head to the adjacent Morning Call. The whole family will enjoy a sweet treat in this 24-hour spot for beignets that's calmer, less crowded and equally delicious as the popular Café du Monde. Beignets — little fried pastries topped with powdered sugar — are a local specialty that both the kids and adults can indulge in. Known not only for their classic Creole cuisine, but also as kid-friendly dining spots, local standbys Mandina’s and Katie’s serve up New Orleans favorites like muffaletta, gumbo and poboys.

Hop on the streetcar, which rumbles down St. Charles Avenue, one of the most beautiful urban streets in the U.S. Exit at the St. Charles Exposition stop, located at the northeast corner of Audubon Park. Inside the park, you’ll find the Audubon Insectarium, Aquarium and Zoo — a triple threat of educational facilities your kids will love, each of which features exhibits on the lush, beautiful Louisiana wetlands. The Audubon Zoo hosts a Zoo Year’s Eve party for children (with a countdown to noon) on Dec. 31. The excellent Louisiana Children’s Museum, just a few blocks from the French Quarter, also offers a noon countdown.

The museum is filled with hands-on displays and interactive exhibits, such as climbing walls and exercise bikes, where kids can discover how their bodies work by balancing, flexing and stretching as they move.

Canal Street trolley Hop on an old fashioned streetcar, like the red Canal Street trolley above, or the green streetcars that go up and down St. Charles Avenue.

Traveling as a Couple

New Orleans exudes romance, especially if you trade in Bourbon Street’s neon lights for the soft winter lights strung from the elegant Garden District’s live oak trees.

Garden District Enjoy winter’s soft glowing light under the Garden District’s majestic Live Oak trees.

Drive just 3 miles southwest from the French Quarter to reach this district full of antebellum mansions, Southern charm and, of course, lovely gardens. Or, ride the St. Charles Streetcar to The Delachaise, where you can enjoy a romantic conversation over a glass of vino and the chef’s selection cheese plate. Then keep riding the streetcar into Uptown, walk a few blocks to posh Prytania Street and grab some ice cream at The Creole Creamery. Later, catch a show at the lovely Prytania, the city’s oldest grande dame movie house.

Wind down the old year and welcome the new with a reveillon dinner – a Creole holiday tradition of fixed-course meals that dates back to the early 1800s. Restaurants across New Orleans offer different reveillon menus throughout December. Alternatively, book ahead for a romantic meal at the Southern-Italian seafood restaurant, Adolfo’s, or The Franklin, known for its oysters, raw bar and cocktail offerings. Afterward, catch the fireworks in Crescent Park, which overlooks the Mississippi River and offers couples more privacy than the French Quarter.

Traveling with Friends

There are plenty of reasons to visit New Orleans, but food and music should be high on anyone’s priority list. With so many good restaurants, it’s hard to know where to start, but if you’re looking for a spot that mixes good, affordable pub grub with some of the best live music in the city, pop into Buffa’s at the edge of the French Quarter. Or take the group for a po’boy at the Parkway and drinks at Pal’s, the diviest of dive bars.

On New Year’s Eve, crowds pack into Jackson Square in the French Quarter to watch the annual fireworks display over the Mississippi. Don’t fight your way through the crowd. Find a French Quarter bar with a balcony, like Jackson Brewery Bistro Bar on Decatur, where the view of the fireworks over the water can be just as scintillating, and you and your friends will be positioned to enjoy nightlife in the Quarter when the pyrotechnics wrap up. If you want to ring in the new year with lots of other people, head to main entertainment drags like Bourbon and Frenchmen streets. If large crowds are not your thing, bar hop on the city’s famous Magazine Street or hit up the French Quarter’s more neighborly bars, like the Black Penny or Cosimo’s.

French Quarter Gather your friends and head to the French Quarter for a lively adventure in this historic New Orleans neighborhood.
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About the Author

Adam Karlin is a freelance writer and editor who loves culture, food, music, the arts, food, history, archaeology, spirits and, yes, food. He lives in New Orleans and publishes his work in a variety of venues.